Eritrean Troops Continue to Commit Atrocities in Tigray, U.N. Says
Despite a promise to leave, Eritrea’s troops remain in northern Ethiopia, aiding the Ethiopian government campaign there, a senior U.N. official told the Security Council.
A building is seen through a broken window in Shire, in the Tigray region of Ethiopia last month.Credit...Baz Ratner/Reuters
NAIROBI, Kenya — Eritrean troops continue to commit atrocities in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray, despite assurances by Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, that they were leaving, a senior United Nations official said Thursday.
Mr. Abiy has come under pressure over reports of massacres, looting and sexual assaults by Eritrean troops. Last month, he flew to the Eritrean capital, Asmara, and announced that his ally, the autocratic Eritrean leader Isaias Afwerki, had agreed to bring his soldiers home.
But the U.N. and its humanitarian partners have seen no evidence that such a withdrawal has taken place, Mark Lowcock, the top U.N. humanitarian official, told the Security Council. In fact, Mr. Lowcock said, Eritrean soldiers had begun to disguise their identities by wearing Ethiopian military uniforms, and some had killed civilians during indiscriminate attacks as recently as Monday.
The reports of the fighting comes as ballots are being counted from Monday's general election. No voting took place in Tigray because of the security situation.
TDF fighters have also been seen in several towns both to the north and south of the region's capital of Mekelle.
Army spokesman Colonel Getnet confirmed there was fighting but denied that any towns, army equipment or soldiers had been captured.
"While the Ethiopian government was busy with the national elections and the GERD [Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam] issues, the terrorist TPLF [a key part of the TDF], along with its young recruits, was actively involved in terrorist activities," he said.
He added that operations were underway to capture the rebel leaders.
Conflict will not end soon
By Teklemariam Bekit, BBC Tigrinya
This is the rebels' biggest offensive since the conflict began in November last year.
They suffered a series of setbacks at the start of the war, but now seem to have regrouped and are preparing for a long, brutal war.
The timing is instructive, it started just days before the election which the ruling party is widely expected to win.
The key question is: Will Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed use his electoral mandate to enter into talks with the rebels or he will press ahead with seeking victory on the battlefield?
What is not in doubt is the rebels have sent a strong message to the rest of the world that Ethiopia is at war, despite the government's narrative that the fighting was almost over.
The reports of the rebel capture of Adigrat, which is within striking distance of Eritrea, would be significant, suggesting that Eritrean troops will not be withdrawing from Tigray any time soon despite growing international pressure.
This war is set to linger for a long time, aggravating Tigray's already dire food shortages and imminent famine.
Ethiopia's government, aided by troops from neighbouring Eritrea, launched an offensive in November last year to oust the region's then ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). By the end of the month, it declared victory.
The TPLF had had a massive fallout with Mr Abiy over his political reforms though its capture of federal military bases in Tigray was the catalyst for the invasion.
The TPLF has since joined forces with other groups in Tigray to form the TDF.
Speaking to the BBC on Monday after casting his vote in the twice delayed national election, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said he was working with the Eritrean troops to get them to leave but said he would not "push them out".
They are accused of carrying out massacres, mass rape and blocking humanitarian aid - charges Eritrea has denied.
He also denied that there was hunger in Tigray. He admitted there was a problem but said the government could fix it.
Mr Abiy has also ruled out talks with the TPLF, which was labelled a terrorist organisation by the national government, in May.
Thousands of Ethiopian army recruits paraded in Addis Ababa on Tuesday to bid farewell before leaving for training, potential future participants in a bloody eight-month-old conflict in the north that continues to spread and intensify.
Recruits to join Ethiopia's Defense Force gather during the farewell ceremony at the Meskel Square in Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia July 27, 2021. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
> They are sending Recruits to the frontlines against Insurgents. That's horrendous.